Our One Income Family
by Christine Johnson
My Story: Living on One Income
A Decision to Stay Home
I wrote this for all the families that want to stay home with one income. Yes, it is possible, I am one of those women who have the now-unique honor of being a stay-at-home mom in a two-income world. The best part is that I didn't have to give up many of the luxuries I have grown accustomed to. I simply found ways to cut costs in all of them. Here's how I did it.
First off, do you really need a cellular phone? I admit this is one of the frivolous things I have, but I like the idea of being able to reach someone in an emergency. The bill was getting too high, so I bought a beeper. Now if someone wants to reach me, they have to page me first, no excuses. Also, I checked around with other services to see if I could get a better deal. I got quotes and offers, in writing, and then called my service provider. They offered me a better monthly rate with free airtime just so that I would continue to use their service. The worst that can happen is that they say no.
Cable bills can get very expensive, especially if you have all of the premium channels and buy a pay-per-view movie or event often. Consider dropping all but one of the premium channels, they all seem to play the same movies. Some cable companies offer packages for certain things as well. I have a package for four premium channels for the cost of one. Avoid pay-per-view, one event comes into mind where people paid $30 for it. One week later, the event was on a premium channel. If you really don't use cable, just consider dropping the service altogether. Go to the movies during the matinee, it's 1/2 price before a certain time of day, including weekends.
Shop around the Internet for free stuff sites. I have seen offers for samples, coupons, free email addresses, and even mouse pads and T-shirts. If you access the Internet through your local library, a free email address is a good thing to have. Also, shop around for the online service that suits your needs the best. Unlimited access is good to have, especially if you are online alot. Use your browser's search engine to find sites for free stuff.
Save on your energy bills, by turning down your thermostat in the winter. A few degrees won't do much to you, but it will save on energy. For the summer, don't use the air conditioner unless the heat is really unbearable. Open your windows, turn on a fan and enjoy the fresh air. There's no need to preheat your oven cooking all the time. Many times it's O.K. to just turn on the oven and throw whatever you're cooking in. Use a crockpot, it uses less energy and won't heat up your kitchen in the summer. There is no point in heating up your kitchen when you're trying to keep the air inside the house cool, it's a waste of time, energy and money heating up the air you just cooled.
Unplug all your appliances except your refrigerator and stove when going out on vacation. Even though they're not turned on, your TV and VCR will still use up energy. Turn down the volume on your TV and stereo when you turn it off. It will have less wear and tear on your speakers, and will be easy on your ears when you turn it back on.
Take good care of all of your equipment, including your car. Have a tune-up and oil changed when they're due, and have any noises looked at right away. My husband didn't listen to me when I told him the brakes were squeaking, and he completely destroyed the brakes. It costed us $600 to get them fixed, it was that bad. He could have saved us time and money by having it checked out, all it needed before he destroyed it was to have the pads replaced and the line checked. Instead we needed to put all new brakes in it. Now he listens to me when I say I'm worried about a certain noise the car is making. My dad doesn't remember how many times he's had to fix cars because someone neglected to change the oil and get tune-ups when they were due (he's an A-tech, specializing in Chrysler/Plymouth). If you have two cars, can you get by with one? If not, consider selling one of the two to buy a cheaper car to beat up on when doing errands around town.
Grocery shopping is one expense I am good at keeping under control. I manage to feed my family of 4 for $140 a week, including lunch, meat, milk, and diapers. Use coupons from the Sunday paper along with the sales for a good deal. Mail in for a refund if it's offered. The end result is saving 75% or more on your groceries. I have no generic products in my home, the price I pay for the name-brand is always less than the generic. Take advantage of sales, use coupons on them and stock up if you can. I don't mean clear the shelf or anything, just buy a little more than you need. I have a metal shelf in my kitchen with soap, shampoo, food storage bags, packaged foods, and baking products, all for free or close to it. If I can't get to the store, I can still make several well-balanced meals for my family and I to last until I can go.
Cook from scratch whenever you can. Making pie crust for potpies and desserts is much cheaper than buying the premixed or premade stuff. Cook extras for another night's dinner, some things reheat quite well in the microwave and cuts down the temptation on ordering a pizza. Good microwave-safe dishes with compartments are inexpensive and a great investment. Fill it with leftover vegetables, meats, etc. and put it in the refrigerator or freezer. To reheat it, take the lid off and microwave at 50% power for 5 minutes if refrigerated 10 if it's frozen. Remember to stir the food and enjoy!
Pack your kids' lunches for school and your spouse's for work. Instead of buying lunch out, you can use last night's leftovers, a sandwich or two. Instead of buying bottled drinks for .75-$1, have them take a thermos of iced tea or juice. Powdered drink mixes are very inexpensive, around .20 to make a 2-quart pitcher. Considering the difference between .20 for 2 quarts as compared to $1 for a 16 oz bottle five days a week, you save around $247 for one person a year. My husband takes leftovers or peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches (he likes them, I keep trying to get him to take a variety of things, but he wants that), and mixes powdered iced tea in a 32-oz beverage container.
Don't drink alot of soda, for one, it makes you thirstier. For two, it's alot cheaper to make a powdered drink, or iced tea from scratch for only pennies. Another thing is to quit smoking (which I am trying to do). I feel much better and am not spending $50 a week for cigarettes. No need to spend money on the gym or fancy exercise equipment, try walking when it's nice out or check out an exercise video tape from the library. There's even exercise shows on cable if you have the basic service, record it and use it when it's convenient to you.
Christmas and birthdays can get expensive, so I usually make gifts or send in for gifts that companies offer for trying their products. The recipients will get gifts that you couldn't get in the stores (I was the envy of many kids when my mom gave me premium gifts that noone else could get and they wanted them too). We spent only $100 on the kids for Xmas last year, half of it was for a baby bouncer that sat on the floor, the other half was for some small toys for the kids and family members that we couldn't get mail-ins for. Take advantage of after-Christmas sales, wrapping paper and decorations are usually marked down to 50% or less. Use it for next year, no need to pay full price if you don't have to.
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I don't have many consignment shops around here to shop for clothes, but I do suggest checking them out. Otherwise I shop the clearance racks in the middle to end of the season. I've bought my daughter clothes that will fit her when she grows into them (she's 1 now, and growing fast). The same with my 3 year-old son. My husband just loves his t-shirts, so I get them from refunds or sales. I've bought a $75 bathing suit for $30 for my trip to Florida this past month. Also a good place for adults to get clothes is a catalog that has a lifetime guarantee on their items. These items may cost a little more, but they are guaranteed to last a lifetime. All you need to do is send the product back and it will get replaced for free.
If you have medical insurance, great. If not, don't make the same mistake I did. I panicked when the hospital threatened to collect if I didn't pay it in full, so I put it on my credit card. I later found out from many others that the hospital can't file collection charges if you show you're attempting to pay, even if it's a small amount. Now I'm stuck with a consumer debt on medical bills totalling at least $10,000. I don't believe in filing for bankruptcy unless we lose our income, so we're working really hard to pay it off.
Also, shop around for lower rates than you're currently paying. Once you find a good deal, cut up the old card or stick it in a sandwich bag full of water and stick it in the freezer. It will be a pain to defrost the card, and by the time it's thawed, you probably won't want to use it. I just got two great offers from two companies offering to consolidate my loans. I took them and now have only two bills to pay each month. I cut up the other cards that I've transferred and told the companies that issued them that they could keep their interest rates. I'll be honest, I am far from debt-free, but my goal is to be on a cash basis in 5 years. I intend to stay that way, unless something drastic happens.
If it's possible to cut costs to the point of having extra money, make an extra payment on your credit card bills or mortgage. Just be sure that the bank applies the payment to the principle and not the interest on your mortgage or it will be money wasted. We don't own our home. We rent, which is more cost-effective right now for us. Although interest is deductible, we found it wouldn't be worth owning right now. Until we're able to save enough to put at least 40-50% down on a home, we're happy to stay put.
Updated August 2013
I'm a stay-at-home mom of two small children, one boy who's 3 years old and a 1 year-old girl. My husband is an assistant warehouse manager for a lighting distribution company. We're on our way to living debt-free, a goal that will make us very proud.
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